Books by Muslim Authors, YA Books

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali – Book Review

This is Sajidah’s debut book and a book I reread for the first time since I read it when it released.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

Honestly I appreciated this book a lot more during my reread than I did the first time I read it. It’s a story that deals with several important topics within the Muslim community that don’t get enough attention and ways to deal with these issues openly and without stigma.

Janna is 15 and going through what a lot of Muslim teens go through living in the west, how to balance your faith and trying to fit in. A lot of youth don’t have someone they can trust to turn to for help in navigating this so they do so on their own and no one is perfect so they can make mistakes, they can bow to peer pressure which does happen to Janna.

Janna is assaulted and harassed by a boy who is known to have a wonderful reputation within the Muslim community and so she finds it difficult to speak up about what has happened to her. It was heart breaking to read about how much Janna struggles to work through her trauma completely alone and she also has to listen to everyone talk about how amazing her assaulter is. She even has to be around him because no one knows what he did to her and she can’t find a way to avoid him. He begins to stalk her and start a smear campaign against her because that will make it harder for her to speak up and be believed. It felt so real to read this. She is trying to move on but keeps getting pulled back and navigating all these complicated feelings. She feels isolated and it affects her relationships with family and friends. It was heart breaking to read about it.

One of the things I did love was that Janna may not have been able to speak up about the assault but she knew that it wasn’t her fault, that even though that monster tried to manipulate her she knew it wasn’t. This is something so important to read and see, that it is never the fault of the victim. I think the only thing I wish we got to see more of was what happened after she finally spoke up. Maybe we will get to see this in the sequel!

I also loved the range of Muslim women that are in this book from niqbi Sausan to “Saint” Sarah and even Fizz. Suasan is amazing and a badass, her sass and and how she carries herself wearing the niqab was so wonderful to see. Sarah may seem like a saint to Janna but once she spends some time with Sarah, she realises that actually she isn’t perfect but just trying her best like Janna. Fizz is another person in Janna’s life but one who is also related to the monster, she can be a little judgemental and see Islam in Black and white and it causes a rift between her and Janna. It was great to see all these different women in the book because we are all different and everyone is on their own journey in their faith.

And then we have Nuah, who clearly has a crush on Janna even though she is oblivious. She has a crush on Jeremy and it was interesting to see her journey through navigating her feelings towards him and trying to figure out how to manage these feelings because she didn’t want to date but also did want to spend time with him. It felt real and relatable. She is 15 and many of us have to navigate and balance our faith and our feelings especially at that age it can be difficult and you can feel pressured to do things you may not want to. But by the end she has resolved her feelings and realises that dating isn’t something she wants to do.

Nuah meanwhile is actually a great friend to her and never pressures her to feel or be more than a friend. He also is one of the few people who figures out that the monster has hurt Janna in some way and immediately believes her and says he is there for her if she needs some support and honestly I just fell in love with how sweet he is. I cannot wait to see him in Misfit in Love!

This is a story that deals with many difficult topics that young people deal with in the Muslim community and I am so glad I reread it as I think I appreciated the story a lot more in my reread. I am so excited for the sequel releasing in a few months!

Books by Muslim Authors, Middle Grade Books

City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda – Book Review

 I have been so excited for this book since it was announced, and it did not disappoint!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Thirteen-year-old Sik wants a simple life going to school and helping at his parents’ deli in the evenings. But all that is blown to smithereens when Nergal comes looking for him, thinking that Sik holds the secret to eternal life.Turns out Sik is immortal but doesn’t know it, and that’s about to get him and the entire city into deep, deep trouble.

Sik’s not in this alone. He’s got Belet, the adopted daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, on his side, and a former hero named Gilgamesh, who has taken up gardening in Central Park. Now all they have to do is retrieve the Flower of Immortality to save Manhattan from being wiped out by disease. To succeed, they’ll have to conquer sly demons, treacherous gods, and their own darkest nightmares.

This book was so wonderful in so many ways. The wonderful witty characters and how the mythology was woven into the story and the captivating writing with some unintentional Tangled references that had me screaming. This book was so hard to put down and I found myself reading well into the night. But the thing that I loved most was just how unapologetically Muslim this book was and how it was just Sikander’s normal life to go to the masjid and use words like inshaAllah which is a huge part of lots of Muslim’s lives.

Sikander is a wonderful character and I loved how much he loved his family and yet at the same time had a complicated relationship with them and how he had been deeply affected by the loss of his brother. He is witty and sarcastic and reminded me so much of my cousin who is the same age. Pre teens are truly the most sarcastic people I have ever met! I loved how he was connected to his community from helping in the masjid and how so many people knew him and his family.

We also meet Belet who is new to Sikander’s school and we find out she is the adopted daughter of Ishtar and has been trained as a warrior. She saves Sikander and they slowly become friends throughout the book. Their banter and witty remarks to each other was so much fun to read especially when you can see they are both becoming friends and yet neither wants to really admit it first. I also loved that Ishtar had so many cats! But these cats aren’t your ordinary cats they are magical cats! I loved every single scene with them!

The story was captivating from start to finish. Action packed and hilarious yet also dealt with some really difficult topics but in a way that kids can understand and relate to which I really loved. There’s discussions about how Daud can only get roles in films as a terrorist because he is a brown Muslim and how the word Jihad has been twisted and what it truly means to Muslims. Grief and death is also discussed really well in the book with Sikander still trying to come to terms with the death of his brother and also the unresolved feelings he has towards him and the situation he has found himself in. Things he wanted to say to his brother, how he wanted to go on an adventure with him too. It was so heartfelt and real and had me so emotional.

I just really loved this book and I truly hope we get a second book because I would really love to go on more adventures with Sikander and Belet! This book was funny and full of adventure and just such wonderful Muslim representation. I wish I had this when I was younger. I highly recommend everyone go read this wonderful book.

The Daevabad Trilogy

Why Ali and Nahri From the Daevabad Trilogy Mean So Much To Me

I think it’s a well established fact that I adore The Daevabad Trilogy and I could truly talk about all the different things I love about it. I do, in fact, have a whole section on my blog dedicated to the trilogy, which you can find here. Today I want to talk about specifically why I love Ali and Nahri and why their relationship means so much to me.

As a reader I have of course many ships like all of us do, characters who’s relationships we love because of the way they develop and the angst and the romance so much more. But Ali and Nahri came along and completely took my breath away at just how real and relatable they were to me. I haven’t read another book with a couple quite like there’s and how much of myself and my husband and out relationship I saw in them. I have said it before but one of the reasons why I fell so completely in love with Ali is because he reminds me of my husband in so many ways.

Nahri is someone I saw myself in a lot. She has lived a life where trusting people is difficult, she can only truly rely on herself to get through and I felt that. So opening up and trusting someone is incredibly difficult for her and when she finally does, he breaks her trust so spectacularly that she completely closes herself up to prevent the hurt and betrayal she felt happening again. That hurt and betrayal was so real to me, it takes a long time to overcome and does it ever truly go away? How do you overcome a lifetime of not being able to trust anyone and being hurt again and again.

I also find it hard to trust people and truly I related to Nahri so much in this especially, how she was so hesitant to build anything between her and Ali because she had been hurt so many times. Keeping him at a distance was safer for her heart, she can’t be hurt again if she doesn’t build an attachment to him beyond him. But he was something so wholly unexpected that despite herself she ended up becoming attached anyways. He was the one real friend who accepted her completely and entirely for who she was, human appearance and all. So much so that despite not being able to see him for 5 years her feelings had not diminished in the slightest.

Nahri is a pragmatic person so to have suddenly developed these feelings for someone who could hurt her in so many ways would have been terrifying. Admitting these feelings even more so. When I finally admitted I maybe had some feelings for my now husband I shook so hard and trembled for ages after. I can see why Nahri took so long even admitting these feelings to herself let alone anyone else, especially to Ali. Ali who could hurt and betray her because of who his family is. Ali, who’s family don’t like Nahri for the most part and who’s father uses her for political gain. Admitting to someone like that, that you have feelings for them is no small thing.

Alizayd al Qahtani is a character who I truly thought had leaped out of the pages in the form of my husband. Like Ali he is oblivious when it comes to speaking to women, social skills aren’t his greatest asset and he has no filter when he speaks. He also is someone who tries to follow and practice Islam to the best of his ability while also sometimes having tunnel vision and not always seeing that things aren’t as black and white as he assumes. Younger husband was exactly like Ali when it came to being uncompromising in his beliefs, he has now realised there is more to Islam than just a list of yes and no answers.

When I met my husband my immediate thought was that he is very tall and bless his heart for the sort of almost there beard that he is clearly desperately trying to grow. And then almost 10 years later reading Nahri’s first impression of Ali to be so similar to mine?!

It was however his complete inability to speak to girls that first endeared him to me. How excitedly he would talk about things he loved and how completely flustered he became when a girl did try to flirt with him. It has actually been over 6 years since we’ve been married and he still gets flustered when I, his wife, flirts with him. I love that about him though because when he does say something, I know he isn’t sugar coating or before we were married just trying to sound good. That was just him being him saying exactly what he felt. Can you see how he is so like Ali in so many ways? And why Ali would mean so much to me? He is my husband with pointy ears and water magic!

Oh lets not forget how just like Ali my husband has no clue how to dress up, he is most happy in his thobe and dressing up nice requires outside assistance from his wife. But when he does well lets just say I feel Nahri when she thinks about how well formed Ali is. Ali may not be the best with his words when it comes to expressing how he feels but he does show it through the things he does for Nahri. From getting her favourite Egyptian food made to building her office to look like Cairo and just supporting her in what she does and truly, completely accepting her for who she is. My husband may not know how to express himself but he does it through bringing me tea in bed at the weekends and holding me up so I can walk to the bathroom when my pain is at its worst to the forehead kisses. When we got married the day after the walima I was in tears because I missed my family and he drove me home to see them because he literally cannot see me upset. He is still like this now too.

Their tentative friendship which became something more and that neither of them saw that coming was something so completely relatable. When I met my husband I was not at all in any way interested in meeting a guy, I wanted to get my degree and work on my career as a Physiotherapist and yet Allah had other plans when He sent my husband into the same class as mine and had me sit in front of him in that Monday morning lecture.

We were friends for a while before we realised that maybe there was something more (also friends telling us that we did in fact like each other which we vehemently denied). I was the one who decided to take the risk and say something and we also had to deal with our families who did not like each other when they met and were against us marrying (it took 5 years for us to actually get married after we told our families) and now we have been married for 6 and a half years and have our own little shedu called Sherlock. Seeing Ali and Nahri and reading their journey and how their relationship progressed through the years and how so insanely similar it was to ours probably made me love them even more than I do for any other characters.

I will forever be thankful to Shannon for bringing these characters to life in a way that I made me completely fall in love with them individually and together. Reading about their relationship and the way it grew slowly and hesitantly into something more was so deeply relatable and I saw me and my husband in them in a way that showed me things about us that I hadn’t even realised. From why it was so terrifying to putting my trust in him and more.

And if you haven’t read this trilogy I highly recommend reading it. You can also find more posts about the Daevabad trilogy on my blog here.

Adult Books, Books by Muslim Authors, Muslim Shelf Space

The Black Khan by Ausma Zehanat Khan – Book Review

This is the sequel to The Bloodprint and I just loved it so much. You can read my review for The Bloodprint here

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

To fight against the cruel and superstitious patriarchy known as the Talisman, members of the resistance group known as the Companions of Hira have risked their lives in a failed attempt to procure the Bloodprint—a dangerous text that may hold the secret to overthrowing the terrifying regime. Now, with their plans in ashes, the Companions of Hira have scattered, and the lives of two brave women at the centre of the plot—Arian and Sinnia—face unprecedented danger.

Yet a spark of hope flickers in the darkness—the Bloodprint has survived. It is hidden in Ashfall, the seat of Rukh, the Black Khan, whose court is ruled by intrigue and conspiracy. Treacherous enemies ruthlessly manoeuvre for power behind the throne, including the autocratic Grand Vizier; the deadly and secretive Assassin; the Khan’s deposed half-brother; and the commander of Ashfall’s army, who is also Rukh’s oldest friend.

The Companions of Hira must somehow reunite, break through Talisman lines, and infiltrate Ashfall. A master of treachery himself, the Black Khan joins forces with these powerful women to manipulate them for his own ends. But as Ashfall comes under siege, he is forced to make a deadly calculation… one that could cause irrevocable damage to the Companions and their fight for freedom. 

This book picks up right where the Bloodprint ends and it is a dark book and so painful to read at times but I loved it so much. We see what happens to each of the characters after the ending of the Bloodprint and what they suffer through as they were betrayed by the Black Khan and left as prisoners. Arian and Sinnia have been separated and are unable to help each other. Daniyar is also a prisoner with Arian and is forced to fight to the death every night while Arian is forced to watch. Sinnia has been taken and is being tortured and honestly the first half of the book was incredibly difficult to read at times. But it shows how far people will go to show their dominance and control. Even twisting holy words which advocate for justice to suit their needs.

I did love seeing that Daniyar and Arian really care for each other and that they are willing to endure so much for each. We see that they truly love each other even though Arian will always choose the companions and her responsibilities she still does love Daniyar. It’s such a bittersweet relationship because they have such immense responsibilities that means they can’t be together truly but they are also drawn to each other no matter what happens to them.

Sinnia and Arian’s friendship and sisterhood is such a beautiful thing to see in books, I love seeing wonderful female friendships. There is no jealousy or resentment between them, they love each other and support each other through everything. I also loved seeing Sinnia with the two sisters who saved her when she was being tortured. I hope we get to see more of them in the next book.

The Black Khan has the Bloodprint and has taken it to Ashfall to help with the siege by the Talisman. He is a complex and confusing character, I’m still not sure how I feel about him. At times it seems that he is trying to do what is right and other times it seems as though he has ulterior motives and will sacrifice anyone and everything to gain what he desires. He pursues Arian even though she makes it clear that she is not interested and in love with Daniyar. He refuses to allow his sister to go and study and fulfil her dreams of joining the companions and studying. He is very misogynistic but also allows women in positions of power and is very contradictory. I think he does only what will keep him in power.

This story is as enthralling as The Bloodprint. I loved seeing the characters again and seeing how they interact after everything they have been through. I also liked seeing the new characters and particularly loved the Black Khan’s sister. The ending of this book is devastating and left me wrecked me. I am actually terrified of reading the next book. But also looking forward to seeing what will happen next.

Booksish Discussions, Muslim Shelf Space

Muslim Shelf Space Books Releasing in 2021 I’m Excited For

2020 has been one hell of a year but somehow we’re almost to the end of this year. While this year has sucked in many ways I have read some absolutely incredible books and there are some amazing books coming out next year that I am so excited for! So here is my list of books by Muslim authors that I am so excited for!

City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda January 12th

We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal January 19th

The Khan by Saima Mir March 4th

Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani March 4th

The Muslim Problem: Why we’re wrong about Islam and why it matters by Tawseef Khan March 4th

Rumaysa by Radiya Hafiza April 1st

Amina’s Song by Hena Khan April 15th

Counting down with you by Tashie Bhuiyan May 4th

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali May 25th

Diana and the Underworld Odyssey by Aisha Saeed May 25th

Hani and Ishu’s guide to fake dating by Adiba Jaigirdar May 27th

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin June 3rd

Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide June 10th

The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad August 3rd

Journey to the Heart of the Abyss by London Shah October

Daevabad Short Stories by S.A. Chakraborty fall

If you know of any others do let me know! I obviously need to add books to my tbr.